Mavericks standings: Success will elude Dallas until they improve the little things

Dallas started last week at .500, and they ended it the same way. They beat two great teams in Phoenix and Denver, and were one shot away from beating Milwaukee, multiple times. Their second loss to Chicago came without Luka Doncic, Josh Green and Maxi Kleber. Kemba Walker made his Mavericks debut against the Bulls and scored eight points in 20 minutes.

Team Rating: C

The Mavericks’ two wins last week were fantastic. They managed Phoenix at home, then flew to Denver and defeated the Nuggets on the second straight night. The teams had won just 18 times since 2016 when they played Denver on the second night in a row. Dorian Finney-Smith played a huge role in this game, making threes in the stretch that kept the Mavericks connected, and ultimately gave them the advantage for good.

The problem with two big wins, like those, is that one horrible loss can sour the taste a lot. The Bucks game was that loss, and it won’t be forgotten for long. Against Denver, Tim Hardaway Jr. missed two free throws while leading one with about three seconds left. The second miss ended up helping Dallas, as Denver didn’t have a timeout and Jamal Murray had to shoot a half court, but still hinted at terrible things to come.

Those misses directly led to the Mavericks having their worst free throw performance in franchise history, where they shot 10 of 24 from the boards against Milwaukee. It was a game Dallas simply had to have, and they gave it away in one of the worst ways you can see. The Mavericks’ late-game execution has been poor all year, and it was thrust into the national spotlight when Dallas choked against the Bucks.

A 7 p.m. tip in Chicago after a 9 p.m. game in Dallas the night before is a “scheduled loss,” so it’s hard to take anything away from that game. When your best player isn’t playing and two rotation guys are also out, walking into the hotel around 4 a.m. is going to make some sloppy basketball, which is exactly what they produced against the Bulls. We might have expected a little more effort, but the circumstances of the game nullify any judgment to be made.

Straight A’s: The Mavericks Defense

Lost in the rollercoaster of emotions in recent nights, the Mavericks have defended the stars of the team well this week. Devin Booker and Nikola Jokic had less than 20 points, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was held below his average and was fouled. In particular, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber have done a great job on the two most recent MVPs, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. Dallas did the hard part (kick the superstar out of the game) and was rewarded with a win in two of those three opportunities.

Failing miserably: The last three minutes of the Bucks game

Antetokounmpo fouled with 2:55 left in the game and the Bucks led 102-101. His final foul was variety shooting on a Hardaway three. After Antetokounmpo left the game, here’s what Dallas did on offense: three missed free throws, Spencer Dinwiddie dunk, Doncic missed the three-point float, Doncic lay-up, Finney-Smith two missed free throws and, Finally, this game for victory:

Execution on the stretch was poor, to say the least. Missing five free throws in the final three minutes of a one-point loss is inexcusable under any circumstances. The possession where Doncic fired a floating three was mostly taken by him and Kleber playing catch until he had to force a buzzer shot. Not calling a timeout after Brook Lopez hit a wide open layup to take the lead with seven seconds left is fine, but the players clearly didn’t know where to go in this situation, which means that they didn’t overcome it well enough.

And the endgame of the inbounds, the same one they ran three times, all ending in misfires, has to be scrapped. It’s a screen and a guy who crosses the three-point line. There is no misdirection, no creativity, and no urgency in the play. Everyone knows what’s coming, and Doncic can’t be a savior when the defense doesn’t have to work to blow up the game.

This loss hurts, for all the reasons. It proved just how unserious the Mavericks currently are and presented all of their biggest problems. Free throws and execution are things that competing teams are built on, and Dallas won’t struggle until they solidify their foundation.

Additional Credit: The Dallas Dunkline

Perhaps the worst part of the loss to Milwaukee was the number of killer plays that are now tainted because they were defeated. However, they are still awesome and everyone deserves to watch them again and again.

First, a backhand from Josh Green:

Next, a bad-footed two-handed Dinwiddie:

Third, a Dinwiddie poster about Brook Lopez:

Finally, a poster of Doncic on Jrue Holiday:

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